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Brian Wilson takes new journey on upcoming solo album

As Brian Wilson celebrates his 72nd birthday, his millions of fans wait rather impatiently for his next album.

Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Brian Wilson turns 72 today.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

For nearly two years Brian has been in and out of the studio working hard on his next song cycle. The titles “Right Time,” “Run James Run” (not to be confused with the 1966 recording), “Sail Away,” “Last Song” and “Danny Boy” have been mentioned by name, and the album is tentatively scheduled to be released on Capitol Records this fall.

According to Rolling Stone’s June 19th “Studio Notes” section, songs currently in contention for Brian’s next album are, “Sharing a New Day” with Kacey Musgraves, a bossa nova style recording “On the Island” with Zooey Deschanel, and the aforementioned “Last Song” with Lana Del Rey. Frank Ocean’s name was also mentioned as another possibility, on a track called, “Special Love.”

If you follow Wilson’s Facebook page, and his various Ocean Way studio image posts via Instagram, then you have seen that his album might include more familiar names like, Al Jardine and Matt Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin. Other posts have included Jim Keltner, Don Was, L.A. drummer Vinnie Colauita and Australian bass guitarist Tal Winkenfeld and Gerry Beckley of America (who stopped by Ocean Way on Brian’s birthday in 2013).

Brian’s main collaborator on the new album is Joe Thomas. Most will remember that Thomas first worked closely with the Beach Boys on their 1996 country-inspired album Stars And Stripes Vol. 1 project, then went on to produce Brian’s 1998 Imagination album. More recently Joe worked directly with The Beach Boys and Wilson on the group’s 29th studio album, That’s Why God Made The Radio.

Thomas spoke about the song “Sail Away” in the Spring 2014 edition of Endless Summer Quarterly (published in March). Here is an excerpt from that conversation.

What can you tell us about “Sail Away”?
Joe Thomas
:… Brian’s a great title guy, and a great idea person for the vibe of the song and what he wants to say. He had a lot to do with the lyrics….it’s a personal journey for him. “Sail Away” is a wonderful story told from the perspective of where Brian is (right now) in life. Kind of looking back, while still looking forward. We’re all a little bit older, and Brian looks at it in seasons…and we’re pretty much in his October in life. It’s a good place. Summer’s over, but its not quite winter, and it’s not the end of the road, so there’s plenty of fun left in October. Brian has told me that Autumn is his favorite time of year.
It kind of reflects in the work we’ve been doing. I’ve known Brian now for 20 years, and I’ve never seen him so prolific, and so happy in the studio. I’ve been flying back and forth from California constantly, and he drives his Mercedes down to Ocean Way, and we just work our butts off…and he’s really, really at a new level. I didn’t know there was another gear, but he’s found it.

Joe: The thing about “Sail Away” (and this new album), is it still has kind of a band vibe, but it’s not anything like That’s Why God Made The Radio. It’s a different phase for sure.

Joe: (Content wise) “Sail Away” is a journey, it goes all the way back to a story set in a nautical theme, on the ocean in various trips along your life… It asks the question, “Do I have one more trip in me?” The song ends with a very triumphant vibe…you and your loved one (going together) finding the final island in the sun. It has a good universal theme… With some of the things that Brian went through when he was younger, it’s been a long road to come to a very happy place. It could have had a lot of left turns, and the song addresses that. Musically, it has a rougher edge to it. The harmonies are cool, but it’s more akin to the music on Wild Honey and the Carl & The Passions records, than That’s Why God Made The Radio.

Joe: I’m excited because Brian is taking chances again like I’ve never seen. I wasn’t around back in the 1960’s when Brian was stretching the envelope, but this is funkier, cool, hip, etc., than That’s Why God Made The Radio. This new material is not a reprise to that album at all; it’s taking it further. We played this song for Capitol Records and they were very pleasantly surprised. “Sail Away” is a brand new song, but there a couple of tracks from songs that we wrote back in the late 1990’s. This is a very, very band oriented song. Brian isn’t trying to write to a younger or older audience, he’s telling the story from his perspective. I think he still has a lot of gas in the tank, and he’s got some really relevant things to say to people who are looking back at their life and coming to a place where things are a little more settled now. The one thing that I’ve noticed with Brian on this record, the theme is definitely his place in life right now. With this record, nobody knows what to expect, and that’s a really cool place for Brian to be, because I think Brian feels that he can make any kind of record that he wants. “Last Song” was (always) supposed to be the last song, but we’re trying to be a little sneaky twist on it now, so maybe now it isn’t the “Last Song.” There’s an optimism in Brian’s music right now that is really making me happy.

Let’s hope it’s not the “Last Song,” because Brian’s music always seems to make us feel better; it soothes our soul. We will always be thankful for that. On this day, we say thank you, and Happy Birthday Brian!
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©2014 David Beard / All rights reserved
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